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Water in His presence must be wine or be ashamed. At Cana of Galilee "The conscious water knew its Lord and blushed."
Logic is the foundation of knowledge but miracles are the foundation of faith. Only when a dead man lives again is there any point in believing.
But why are the miracles of Christ so much more believable than those we see on cable television? TV miracles seem more entertaining than transforming. They seem so instant and unverifiable. So commercial. So much an ad campaign for the undiscovered God. They leave us hungry for a more certain view of Him. We all want a little less, "Brother, thou art healed-put something in the plate," and a little more, "Rise, take up your bed and walk."
All miracles-contemporary or otherwise-take interpretation. For instance, I know Jesus multiplied loaves; I accept this without question. But I remember a woman who invited thirty-five people to her home, forgetting she had only one small churn of homemade ice cream to feed them. According to her, she laid hands on her churn, blessed it, and miraculously fed them all with much to spare.
Why do I believe Jesus' multiplicationof the loaves and not her multiplication of the quarts? Because ... well, to be honest, she seemed a bit "off-the-wall" to me. But frankly it just seems that multiplying loaves and fishes is more biblical than multiplying ice cream. Most of us have a natural prejudice in favor of biblical miracles. Television miracles seem smaller and less trustworthy than those of Scripture. Perhaps the things I classify as miracles in my own life are in some cases less showy than asking God to multiply ice cream.
Contemporary miracles rarely come in biblical proportions. For years my wife and I made an annual hike through the Grand Canyon. The hike was a simple matter of leaving the South Rim, following the Kaibab Trail down to the Colorado River, staying all night at the Phantom Ranch, and hiking back up the Bright Angel Trail to arrive once again on the South Rim of the Canyon. The climb back to the surface was always a kind of exhilarating agony.
On one of our trips to the canyon we decided to park our car on the South Rim, take a bus around to the North Rim, and hike down through and across the canyon. While the cross-canyon trip is only twenty-eight miles, the trip around the canyon to the north trailhead is 180 miles. Nonetheless we made the trip and began our hike down into the canyon.
During that ill-fated hike we both became terribly sick with heat exhaustion. Dehydrated and vomiting profusely, we weren't sure we'd be able to reach sanctuary at the Phantom Ranch on the banks of the Colorado River on the floor of the canyon. Even if we did, we felt we could not make it through the night in the dormitories where we usually stayed. So I began to pray that we would be able to have one of the private cabins in which to spend the night. These units are few in number and nearly always given to those who pay a premium excursion fare to ride the mules to the bottom. In all my previous years of trying I had never been able to secure one of them.
Now throughout my years of praying I have rarely asked God to do anything for me personally. I believe prayer counts most when we are able to get others to pray for us or when we pray for others. But on this occasion I actually asked God to give us one of those private cabins for our much needed rest. And, as I'm sure you've surmised, when we reached the bottom of the canyon there was a cabin available. God blessed us what we asked for and our violent illness was much more bearable than it would have been in the dormitories.
Should I use the word miracle to refer to this? I believe so. Miracles come in all sizes. While this miracle seems small indeed when placed alongside the crossing of the Red Sea in Exodus, I nonetheless found the compassion of God in His direct reply to our desperation.
It is an interesting paradox. All of us both crave and doubt miracles. We receive them yet often fail to believe them because they seem so much smaller than Bible-sized miracles.
Once a man from my church went to an Oklahoma cable-TV faith healer to be delivered from cataracts. He was healed and came back seeing. Of course, his new sight was a terrible inconvenience to his ophthalmologist who would have preferred the man call up a surgeon. And, if I'm honest with myself, I guess I was a bit perturbed as well. Perhaps, deep down, I too wished the man would have gone on a pilgrimage to Lourdes or consulted a miracle worker with a little more class. But the man had regained his sight and his miracle was one we all had to live with-television evangelist or not. Which brings us to another challenge of miracles.
Three Responses to Miracle
Not only are we beset with the problem of whether miracles really happen, but we must forever struggle with our response to them. Ours is an age hungry for the unexplainable benevolence of God. Yet we want every miracle to undergo the strictest of spiritual forensics so we can be sure it happened even as the "miracle-ized" say it did. We believe, but we want to be sure some credible witness has signed on the bottom line that she actually saw the whole thing happen.
There are a lot of responses to miracles, but here are my three favorites:
1. Do That Again!
I call this the Houdini Response. It's how audiences reply to an illusionist. When Mr. Copperfield makes the Statue of Liberty disappear we all know it's a trick, but we want him to do it again. Why? So we can watch very carefully the second time. Houdini would have had the same effect on Herod that Jesus did. In Jesus Christ Superstar Herod sings to Jesus, "Prove to me that you're real cool. Walk across my swimming pool!" Herod wanted some evidence up front. To the poor deluded King of Judea, Jesus was only a high-quality illusionist, the Nazarene Houdini of His day.
This response to miracle is but the "oohing and aahing" of reactionary believing. The reaction is positive in that it doesn't seek to figure out how the miracle was done. But neither is the "ooher" or "ahher" changed by the miracle. The magicians of Egypt, like Moses, could create snakes from sticks. It was a good show for everybody, but the Exodus did not begin with a stick-to-snake miracle. The miracle that changed history was not a miracle that merely wowed the crowd. It was the killing Passover miracle that forced Egypt to make a decision about God's demands.
Likewise, there were plenty of people ready to follow Jesus after the feeding of the five thousand. But when Jesus invited them to a more difficult communion than that of bread and fish, the crowd fell away. Jesus' call was a call to blood and death-the cost of discipleship. "Come with me and die" was a miracle of discipline they could not bear.
3. Lord, I Believe.
This is the best response to miracles. Thomas the Doubter didn't believe the resurrection until he actually saw the Lord alive again. Yet when he saw the living Christ, he didn't just say, "Oh, now I see." What he came to believe was not the miracle itself, but the Christ behind the miracle. This is the best result of miracles. To believe in Christ is more than being either curious or wowed. It is to commit ourselves to the God of the Bible and to Jesus Christ His only Son. Jesus testified to this when He said, after healing the blind man, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned that he was born blind, but that the power of God might be made manifest in his body" (John 9:4). The mightiest of wonders cause people to not believe in them but in the God who accomplishes them.
The Ones That Get Away
But, you may be thinking, what of the times I have prayed for a miracle and yet God didn't come through for me? How can such an obvious shortcoming in the Almighty induce me to believe in Him?
I once traveled on a very small commuter plane through a very large storm. A man sitting beside me actually died during that flight. He had a heart attack. I watched him dealing with death as our tiny plane was tossed from thunderhead to thunderhead. Amidst the tumult and roaring, I tried without success to get the pilot's attention (I dared not loosen my own seat belt to try to move forward to the cockpit). By the time I finally managed to notify the captain, it was too late. The pilot radioed ahead for an ambulance and paramedics; when we actually reached the runway the poor man was dead.
My prayers for a miracle were unavailing. But, then, we must remember miracles are kept in the vaults of heaven. Sometimes we ask and God answers with fire and our needs meet his supply. But sometimes we pray and our desperation seems not to reach God's rich deposit of miracles. Our physical needs do not always end in miracle. A miracle may take a thirty-year life and extend it into an eighty-year life. But nobody goes on being healed indefinitely. None slip past God's great deadline of Hebrews 9:27: "It is appointed unto man once to die."
But our puny lifespans cannot devour the glory of our final reward in heaven. Heaven is the greatest of miracles. The glory of immortality will at last obliterate all our seemingly unanswered prayers for health. Paul reminded us that the sufferings of the present time do not outweigh the glory that shall be (Romans 8:18). Just how temporary is it? If you could plot all the years of your life on a giant clock so that each hour of that clock equaled six years of your life, you could understand how fleeting your life is and how great is the miracle of heaven. If you were to plot all of your years on such a clock where you were born at eight o'clock in the morning and died at eight o'clock in the evening, every hour of that clock would consume six years of your life. At nine o'clock you would be six and you would die at eight that evening. At ten o'clock you would be twelve. At one o'clock you would be thirty. And so on. It is easy to see why Job said we are like "straw before the wind" (Job 21:18). It is easy to see why James called his life a wisp of smoke in a driving wind (see James 4:14).
During the time I was writing this book, my father-in-law died and I officiated at his funeral. I can hardly relate the emotional impact this funeral had upon me. All of my relatives are buried in that same cemetery where my wife's father was laid to rest and all of our burial plots as you might expect are within inches of each other. I own the cemetery plot next to my father-in-law's. I actually stood on my own cemetery plot to conduct "Daddy's" committal service. The dirt from his grave was piled on my plot. It was a chilling omen.
As I preached that funeral I felt an odd emotion. I looked out at my family all of whom are older than I (and I am no longer young). For one moment, it seemed, I thought I was a skeleton, speaking my father-in-law's eulogy to a whole crowd of skeletons. I was in Ezekiel's valley of dry bones. I realized it would not be long before I myself was in a box, with someone else standing beside that box to read the same kinds of words over me.
Life is brief and I am counting on the miracle of heaven to extend it. Without that miracle, my life would end with no assurance. In short I am miracle-dependent. But I am among those who are counting on the miracle of resurrection. It is this miracle that makes of death only an inconvenience in the path to heaven, the greatest miracle of all.
Why Are Miracles a Must?
Miracles are a must because without them I can live at best only a plain life where I am locked for my three-score-and-ten years in a vault called the Laws of Nature. These laws were not established to undo me. In fact they make my life possible. Because of the laws of nature I may expect and even predict tomorrow's sunrise. Because of those laws I know that the designer of the Titanic bragged foolishly of its unsinkable status. Because of these laws I understand why the Hindenburg crashed.
Once, when Francis Schaeffer was crossing the Atlantic by air, he noticed (somewhere at mid-crossing) that the airplane seemed to be losing altitude. Dr. Schaeffer said that after a while he began praying that the rapidly sinking flight "would be healed." When it was close enough to the water that other passengers began to express alarm, Dr. Schaeffer's prayers "locked in" and there was a sudden lurch of the aircraft as it began once again to regain the lost altitude.
When they arrived in New York, Dr. Schaeffer related to the pilot his prayers with the question, "Do you believe prayer can reignite a cold engine?" The pilot only smiled, as if he'd been found out.
The laws of physics must be honored for they are hard fast rules. But a single praying passenger may abrogate the force of physics and chemistry and order the world back to honoring God's interruption of natural law. So, miracles assure us that the unbending laws of science are not free to condemn us to their hard conclusions. God on His own-at His caprice-can speak to all the maxims of science and place His own demands on those laws.
Most men have a fear of having their physician say, "I'm sorry, but you have pancreatic cancer." Why? Because pancreatic cancer is almost always 100 percent fatal. To have it is to know you will most likely die. In spite of the Houston Clinic, people who have it die. It is a law of nature, a dreaded truth bolted beneath the hasp of scientific law that always has its way.
I have known only a few men who faced this horrible killer. They all died. The ardent faith of their families and friends did not avail. My prayers as their pastor could not save them. I have seen other kinds of cancer healed, but never this kind. In my experience this one law of nature-so far-has never been annulled.
Will this always be the case? Has this particular cancer ever been healed by a miracle? Who can say? This is the beauty of miracle. Somewhere, at some time, every condemning scientific mandate has been beaten back by that great overcomer called miracle. There will likely be in heaven with me some who beat pancreatic cancer and are only in heaven because they died of some other cause. Such a victor will testify "This particular law of nature did not apply to me. In me, God set aside that rule to show me that neither He nor I was imprisoned in a system of laws. Marvel not! God is not bound up in a cold and harsh legal system of His own making. There is always hope."
Paul Gallico wrote a novel called The Snow Goose.
Excerpted from Miracles and Wonders by Calvin Miller Copyright © 2003 by Calvin Miller
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.